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Ivica Kostelic ‘motivated’ to boost family’s medal haul

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – Ivica Kostelic was greedy. The Croatian skier wanted gold and to tie an Olympic family record in the super combined Friday.

Kostelic, 34, was second to Swiss Sandro Viletta by .34 of a second in slushy snow at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort.

WATCH: Sandro Viletta steals gold in super-combined

He became the second oldest Olympic Alpine medalist, the first Alpine skier to win four Olympic silver medals – the only color he’s known – and the first Winter Olympian to win three straight silver medals in the same event.

Despite all that, he was first asked if he was disappointed with yet another silver.

“This is the question that is often said to me,” he said. “I’m obviously specialized in silver. Everyone likes the winners. The Americans, they say the second one is the first loser. This is not completely true.

“I could be in a hospital. I could be picking garbage in Calcutta or dying of hunger in Africa. Anyone who complains about silver or bronze doesn’t have the right to do so. Gold is the ultimate aim for us, but I’m happy with silver as well.”

In the heat of the moment, Kostelic said he was a bit unhappy when he crossed the finish and saw he was behind Viletta with six more racers to go.

But then Kostelic, as more racers finished behind the both of them, thought about the No. 10.

RELATED: Surprise win by Sandro Viletta in SC

Ten was on his mind before he skied into seventh place in the downhill portion of the event Friday morning, becoming the favorite for gold as the only strong technical skier in the top 15 going into the afternoon slalom.

Ten has been on his mind for a while. Kostelic won his fourth medal Friday. Plenty of Winter Olympians have done that.

But add it to his retired younger sister’s medal total, and you get 10. That tied the record for most career Winter Olympic medals by a brother and sister. They matched retired Italian cross-country skiers Manuela and Giorgio di Centa.

Americans Jack and Shirley Babashoff won 11 swimming medals at the Summer Games.

“I’m very proud to point at a fact that this is the 10th (Winter) Olympic medal for family Kostelic,” he said. “We didn’t talk about that a lot, but people were often questioning what would be special about winning the next medal. The first thing on my mind is this No. 10. A lot of sportsmen have more Olympic medals, but no families.”

Both Janica and their father, Ante, were on hand Friday. Ante was tapped to set the slalom course layout, winning a lottery of national team coaches of highly ranked skiers. This fortunate turn of fate gave Kostelic an advantage.

Janica is the most decorated women’s Alpine skier in Olympic history with four golds and two silvers. She retired due to injuries at age 24 in 2007.

“Janica told me she is super happy,” Kostelic said. “That’s all.”

Kostelic has had a tough season so far, coming off his 11th career surgery and 10th to his right knee in May.

He’s posted one top-10 during the World Cup season after being among the top five in the slalom and super combined standings each of the previous six seasons.

“One of my worst seasons,” said Kostelic, who debuted on the World Cup in 1998. “This is a bright light.”
He will try for Kostelic medal No. 11 in the slalom on Feb. 22. He is the defending silver medalist, and it will likely be his final Olympic event.

He’s greedy. He wants gold.

“I am motivated,” he said. “This medal puts a lot of pressure off of me.”

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross beat top-ranked Brazilians for first time

Kerri Walsh Jennings, April Ross
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Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross beat Brazil’s best beach volleyball team for the first time and extended the longest winning streak of their partnership in winning the Moscow Grand Slam on Sunday.

“That just shows our growth,” Ross said. “We’re still on the up and up.”

Walsh Jennings, a three-time Olympic champion, and Ross, an Olympic silver medalist, beat Olympic qualifying top seed Larissa and Talita 22-20, 21-17 in the final for their third straight international title.

Walsh Jennings and Ross have now won 22 straight FIVB World Tour matches, the best run of their three-year parternship. Walsh Jennings last reached a streak this long from 2007 to 2010, when she won 78 straight international matches with Misty May-Treanor and Nicole Branagh, according to BVBInfo.com

The Americans had lost all three of their previous matches (one a one-set exhibition) versus Larissa and Talita:

Feb. 27, 2015 — 26-24 in Rio de Janeiro
Aug. 23, 2015 — 21-18, 21-16 in Long Beach, Calif.
March 20, 2016 — 22-20, 21-19 in Vitoria, Brazil

“You know what makes me happy? This is done. Now we’ve done it, we’ve beaten them and put it to rest,” Walsh Jennings said, according to USA Volleyball.

Larissa and Talita, seeking to become Brazil’s first Olympic women’s beach volleyball champions in 20 years, have won 12 of their 20 international tournaments since pairing in July 2014.

The FIVB World Tour continues in Hamburg, Germany, next week, the final event in Olympic qualifying. Walsh Jennings and Ross are expected to play there.

Walsh Jennings and Ross and Larissa and Talita are already qualified for the Rio Games.

MORE: Logan Tom continues volleyball career in Indonesia

Star goalie Ashleigh Johnson set to make U.S. Olympic water polo history

Ashleigh Johnson
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LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — Donna Johnson just wanted her five children to be safe around the pool at her Miami home. That was it, really, the first step in Ashleigh Johnson‘s path from prodigy to USA water polo.

Swim lessons turned into meets when their instructor told Donna Johnson her children were so good she had nothing left to teach them. When Ashleigh and her siblings continued to show athletic potential as they got older, Donna Johnson, a single mother and nurse from Jamaica, delivered a simple message to them.

“For everything that they do, it’s not about pressure, it’s about maximizing your potential,” she said.

Now her oldest daughter is about to make history this summer. Ashleigh, a goaltender blessed with jaw-dropping athleticism, is a lock for Rio de Janeiro, putting her on track to become the first black woman to play water polo for the U.S. Olympic team.

While this is just the fifth Games for the women’s tournament, Johnson’s ascension to elite goaltender is a welcome development for a sport looking for more diversity and growth outside of water polo-crazy Southern California.

Each of Johnson’s teammates is from the Golden State, and the same three Pac-12 schools — UCLA, Southern California and Stanford — dominate the roster. Seventy-five percent of USA Water Polo’s roughly 42,000 members live in California.

After starring at Ransom Everglades High School in Florida, Johnson opted for Princeton instead of USC.

“I think Ashleigh Johnson’s the future of our sport in the U.S.,” USA Water Polo CEO Christopher Ramsey said. “She’s an out-of-California athlete who grew up in Florida. She went to Princeton, high academic achiever from a different background than a lot of traditional water polo families are from.”

Just a short while ago, Johnson, 21, wasn’t interested in that future, at least with the national team. The thought of moving away from her tight-knit family and joining a new team in California wasn’t appealing to her, but several conversations with coach Adam Krikorian helped change her mind.

“I didn’t really know that the Olympics was a possibility for me,” Johnson said. “I thought it was just like coming and training like I had been doing for years, but just living out here, and he made me realize that the Olympics was a great opportunity and a possibility for me.”

Krikorian first heard of Johnson about 10 years ago when he was the head coach at UCLA. Nicolle Payne, one of his assistants with the Bruins and a former national team goaltender, was working a camp in Miami when she sent an email to Krikorian about America’s next great goaltender.

“She said, ‘Adam, keep this name in your mind,’ and she told me her name — Ashleigh Johnson,” Krikorian said. “‘She is the most amazing goalie I have ever seen.”‘

It’s easy to see what got Payne’s attention.

The 6-foot-1 Johnson has long arms, perfect for firing outlet passes for U.S. counterattacks and guarding the top parts of the goal, and she cuts through the water with impressive ease. Sick of swimming in high school, she was offered an out by her mother and coach if she won the 50-meter freestyle at states as a sophomore. So she won and walked away.

She collected 54 saves while helping the United States qualify for the Olympics at a tournament in the Netherlands in March, including 10 stops in an 11-6 victory over Italy in the final, capping an 8-0 performance for the Americans. But that gifted sprinter is still inside her.

At a recent practice, assistant coach Chris Oeding gave the team a chance to cut short the swimming portion of training if the players could assemble a sub-1:40 200-yard freestyle relay team. Krikorian and assistant coach Dan Klatt offered a nodding Johnson as a candidate, but four different players were chosen.

They made the time, but Johnson stole the show by swimming the second leg alongside the relay, leaving Krikorian and Klatt shaking their heads as she churned through the pool like a motorboat.

“She’s a freak,” Princeton coach Luis Nicolao said. “She’s just athletic. I often joke she could probably start for our basketball team, track team, swim team, she just has that natural ability to succeed at anything she does.”

Johnson and her sister, Chelsea, play for Nicolao with the Tigers. They have two older brothers, Blake and William, and one younger brother, Julius.

Their parents got divorced when Ashleigh was little, and Donna Johnson raised the kids mostly on her own. It’s a challenging juggling act not lost on her children.

“I mean she’s such a hard-working, loving and determined woman,” Ashleigh said, “and she’s taught me that hard work ethic and just to try my best at everything and love what I do.”

Chelsea Johnson, who joked that she followed her sister to Princeton because she didn’t want to play against her, said she sees similarities between Ashleigh and their mother.

“I think the biggest thing from her, she and Ashleigh, is that she’s always smiling, no matter what,” she said. “Like her and Ashleigh, not matter what they’re doing, no matter how hard the thing is, they’re always smiling and trying to make everyone around them feel better about whatever’s happening.”

VIDEO: Ashleigh Johnson stands out on U.S. water polo team